Israel wraps up illegal outpost evacuation, promises new settlement

AMONA, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli police dragged nationalist youths out of a barricaded synagogue on Thursday, completing the forced evacuation of an illegal outpost in the West Bank even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to build evicted families a new settlement.

Israeli policemen remove a pro-settlement activist during an operation by Israeli forces to evict settlers from the illegal outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

As the evictions ended in Amona, which was built in 1995 without Israeli government authorization, the housing minister said his department was offering land in settlements for 2,000 new housing units so that “a bigger Amona” could be built.

Israel has already said that it plans to build some 6,000 new West Bank homes.

About 100 youngsters protesting against the removal of some 300 settlers on Thursday kicked at police, who used a high-pressure hose and a wooden pole to batter down sheet metal and furniture blocking the entrances to the synagogue.

The teenagers painted a Nazi swastika on a synagogue wall next to a slogan denouncing the police.

The evacuation began on Wednesday, when most of the families that settled in Amona were removed. But the youths holed up in the synagogue overnight.

Police, announcing that Amona had been cleared, said some 60 officers were slightly hurt in the two-day operation. Hospitals reported that at least four protesters had been treated for injuries.

Amona was the largest of scores of outposts erected in the West Bank without formal approval. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled last November that it must be evacuated because it stands on privately-owned Palestinian land.


In a statement late on Wednesday and again in a speech in the West Bank on Thursday, Netanyahu said a new settlement would be built for Amona’s families and that a committee would be set up to locate a site.

“We will work to have it happen as soon as possible,” he said, speaking in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Once constructed, it will be the first new settlement built in the West Bank since 1999. Construction in existing settlements has raised to 350,000 the number of Israelis living in the territory, which was captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, also seized in that conflict.

Most countries consider all Israeli settlements to be illegal. Israel disagrees, citing historical and political links to the land - which the Palestinians also assert - as well as security interests.

Announcing the land release, Housing Minister Yoav Galant said: “There is no more symbolic a day for a building drive in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

“I have said in the past that a bigger Amona will be built. The start comes in the shape of hundreds of housing units that are to be offered for immediate sale.”

Since Donald Trump took office as U.S. president on Jan. 20, Israel has announced plans for almost 6,000 more settlement homes in the West Bank, drawing European and Palestinian condemnation but no criticism from the White House.

Trump, a Republican, has signaled he could be more accommodating toward settlements than his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, which Israeli forces and settlers left in 2005, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Writing by Ori Lewis and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Catherine Evans